The Revolutionary Court has gone to great lengths to block lawyer Masoud Shafiei from defending jailed Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Recently, when Shafiei gave an account of what Judge Salavati, well known for his role in prosecuting journalists following the 2009 Green Movement, has done to block him, Mehrangiz Kar was reminded of her own experience as a lawyer in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over a series of three articles, Kar recalls three incidents that summarize her experience of practicing law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Read articles one and three here.
A woman who had just been released from prison found her way to my office. She was accused of setting up a house of prostitution. After questioning her thoroughly, it turned out that she was the mother of a martyr [war veteran]. Her son had been the sole breadwinner in the family and when he died, she was left with four daughters. She appealed to various foundations that were set up to support the families of martyrs, but without success. She ended up in the office of a director who offered to help.
The woman referred to him as “Haji Organi [a person with connections in all types of organizations],” a nickname he acquired because he worked for various organs of the revolution. According to her, he suggested she open a house for “receptions,” a place for would-be concubines and their partners [those engaging in so-called “temporary marriages”]. Ceremonies would be conducted on the premises and nothing illicit was allowed. Married women were forbidden.
The woman opened the house and enjoyed thriving business. Haji Organi had kept his promise; the only thing he wanted, he said, was for his good deed to be rewarded in the afterlife. Of course, he enjoyed other rewards as well: He took his pick of the most desirable women at the house, after the necessary short ceremony.
With the power of attorney form in hand, I went to the court. The moment that the Haj Agha [someone in a high judicial position]saw the name of my client, he was horrified. “With your perfect hejab, it’s not right for you to be involved in such a dirty case. Leave this to court-appointed lawyers.” I reminded him that public defendants are only legal when the client cannot afford a lawyer. My client said she could pay. He pushed his turban up and down a little and asked, “Where did she get the money? She says she doesn’t have a penny.”
I told him about Haji Organi, and his willingness to pay for lawyers.
Blood rushed to the Haj Agha’s face. “You can read the case in my presence,” he said. “You’re not allowed to take notes or ask for photocopies. Put your pen and paper inside your handbag. Only read the file. If you tell anybody what you have read, it won’t be good for you.”
The secretary brought me the case files in a thick folder. I objected, saying that I could not possibly read it in one hour. “At least let me make photocopies of the important documents,” I said. “Lawyers are legally allowed to make copies.” He became agitated and said; “Don’t talk to me about the law. A lawyer’s permit is not the Holy Koran. It can disappear in an instant.”
I went through the file hastily. Everything I found revealed a judicial system that held the law or even its own claim to sharia law up to ridicule.
In the end, Haji Organi was never summoned to court. My client was acquitted and left for the United Arab Emirates. The most important question was: Who’d betrayed Organi? What I gathered from the file was that it was his colleagues in various organs of the revolutionary regime, who were competing with him for ill-begotten gains. In cases like this, the courts are scared stiff of defense lawyers.
The author’s husband, journalist Siamak Pourzand, took his own life while under house arrest in 2011.